Dancer Jimmy Gamonet de los Heros, who helped give birth to the Miami City Ballet and later led two major dance groups in Miami and Peru, has died of COVID-19, according to The National Ballet of Peru and Peru’s Ministry of Culture.
Gamonet died Friday in Peru, Ballet Nacional del Perú announced on Facebook. He was 63 and the group’s artistic director.
“His professionalism significantly impacted the artistic performance of the Peruvian National Ballet. We remember his outstanding work as director and choreographer in his wide international career,” the post read.
“I have no words to express how I feel,” wrote Iliana Lopez, who danced leading roles in many of Gamonet’s ballets at Miami City Ballet and Ballet Gamonet in South Florida. “Jimmy was our great friend, our brother. … Dear Gamo, we love you so much, your departure leaves us with broken heart. Rest in peace, fly very high …”
Miami City Ballet, Gamonet come of age
Miami City Ballet and Gamonet, who served as the company’s resident choreographer for 13 years, both arrived on Lincoln Road in 1986, a time when the pedestrian mall was deserted and storefronts vacant.
“Gamonet began choreographing pieces for a brand new company in a city where no one expected a ballet company to succeed. None of that concerned him: He was focused on the task at hand,” the Miami Herald noted in 1999.
“Watching Iliana Lopez and Mikhail Nikitine rehearse ‘Carmen,’ … Gamonet stares so intently he seems to be trying to suck the dance in through his eyes; at other times he sways and exhales, dancing with them. If his manner is genial and low-key, he is also precise and demanding; he spends several minutes showing Nikitine exactly how he should kiss Lopez’s hand,” the Herald’s dance critic wrote during Gamonet’s tenure with Miami City Ballet.
Gamonet, born and raised in Lima in 1957, was the eldest of three boys and two girls born to actor parents. He embodied dance and music. And for Gamonet, music was more than notes on a page, he told the Miami Herald in 1998. It was life.
“I love to make dances for the sake of dancing because I see so much in the music,” Gamonet said. “It’s beautiful and comfortable — and safe. When I’m alone and working with the music, I develop this relationship between the music and myself. The music becomes your partner, your friend. No one knows it but you.”
Of his style, Gamonet, who had a repertory of 50 ballets, told the Sun Sentinel in 1987 that European and Russian artists may have been his strongest influences because he was exposed to its artisans while learning ballet in his native Peru.
Gamonet, steeped in music and movement, was 27 when Edward Villella, Miami City Ballet’s founding artistic director, encouraged him to come choreograph for the company he was forming. According to a Herald article in 1999, Villella wanted to tap a talent that would grow along with the Miami City Ballet, and he found a kindred spirit in Gamonet.
“It was more interesting to take a young person with ability, like the dancers, than one who was fully formed so we’d all grow up together,” Villella said at the time. “ Gamonet’s ballets would make up the largest part of the company’s repertory after George Balanchine’s.
But in July 2000, Gamonet was dismissed by the Miami City Ballet. At the time, the president of the board said the company wanted to move in a different direction.
Gamonet moved on to create his own ballet company with a $300,000 grant from the city of Miami. Ballet Gamonet was born in April 2004 in a refurbished rehearsal studio and performance space in the Alfred I. Dupont Building on Flagler Street — “a promising new chapter in the rebirth of downtown Miami,” a Miami Herald arts writer and critic opined.
“Miami in particular, and South Florida in general,” Gamonet told the Herald, “is a very progressive region that’s forward-thinking yet maintains strong ties to the past. Many of the different nationalities found here possess a dance heritage of which they take pride, and have exciting young choreographers at work today.”
The choreographer built a core ensemble of dancers. His goal for the dance group that had his name in its title? Ballet Gamonet would “showcase the marvelous achievements of this great matrix of culture and to share these contributions on the world stage.”
But by 2009, as the economy was struggling to recover from a recession, Ballet Gamonet, which had merged with Maximum Dance Company, fell victim to a loss of funding.
Ballet Nacional del Perú
In 2015, Gamonet, whose career put him on stages from the Oklahoma Ballet in the United States to the Ballet du Nord in France and, of course, Miami, returned to Peru as the artistic director of Ballet Nacional del Perú.
There, too, he found home again. And thrived.
“His arrival at Ballet Nacional raised the level even more,” Fiorella Alvarez wrote on the Facebook page in Spanish.
Scholarship in Miami
Instead of flowers, the Jimmy Gamonet Student Dance Scholarship Fund at The Miami Foundation has been established, said Gamonet’s publicist Maria Lanao. Checks can be made payable to The Miami Foundation c/o Jimmy Gamonet Student Dance Scholarship Fund and mailed to The Miami Foundation, 40 NW Third Street, Suite 305, Miami, FL 33128. Or donate via credit card at give.miamifoundation.org/jimmygamonet.
Details on services and survivors are not yet available.